Racial Harmony

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For boys who have passed by or through the Middle School this week you will have noticed that the precinct was awash with the colour orange in the form of balloons and banners. The boys in Year 8 will, I hope, be able to tell you that this display of orange was to mark Harmony Day, an event organised by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. It is aimed at celebrating our cultural diversity and promoting tolerance and respect for racial difference. The theme for Harmony Day in 2011 is ‘Everyone Belongs’, promoting the idea that all Australians form an important part of our country, regardless of their background. Harmony Day is a time to reflect on where Australia has come from, as well as a time to recognise the traditional owners of this land and, very importantly it is also a time to reflect on what it means to be an inclusive and tolerant society. The Australian Government intentionally designated Harmony Day on March 21st to align with what is also the United Nation's International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This international day came about when on the 21st March 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful anti-apartheid demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa. In memory of those who lost their lives in this tragic event, and as a symbol of the fight against racial oppression, the UN General Assembly proclaimed the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, calling on the international community to redouble its efforts to be tolerant of racial diversity. Although much has been achieved globally to tackle racial intolerance, it is a terrible reality that too many individuals and communities continue to suffer from the injustice and stigma that racial intolerance brings. Today I want to take the time, to acknowledge Harmony Day and the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination by asking some questions about what tolerance means in the Australian context and within the Grammar community. In Australia, our history has delivered us a uniquely multicultural society made up of hundreds of different ethnic groups. The students of history in this room would agree that our post-war immigration program was an exercise in nation building, which has few historical parallels. Today, we live in what I believe is a mostly cohesive, inclusive society in which the cultures, languages and religions of millions of Australians have transformed our social and cultural landscape. We have made this journey with remarkably little conflict when compared to the experience of other countries, and, rightly, this has been applauded as one our great achievements as a nation. According to the last census more than one fifth of the Australian population were born overseas. Furthermore, almost 50 percent of our 22 million people were either born overseas, or had one or both parents born overseas. The tangible effects of Australia having this incredible multi-cultural society are obvious. On a daily basis we are reminded of the unquestionable benefits that flow from the rich ethnic blend that now makes up our society. It is undeniable that the linguistic, cultural and social connections that come from being a multicultural society provide vast economic benefits and support the development of prosperous international business links. Also, one need only look at the incredible diversity in cuisine we enjoy, the range of furnishings from other countries with which we decorate our homes, and even the different customs many of us weave into our own lives, to see the vibrant impact that such rich ethnic diversity has on all of our lives. On the whole Australians are tolerant of these different cultural influences, in fact most of us embrace them willingly and enjoy the experience.

What is less obvious, and I think harder to measure, is the degree to which we are tolerant of the people themselves, the people who bring with them the food, the customs,...
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